Hi there and welcome back to another issue of From The Vault! Whilst being marred by unpredictable exams and a less than commendable attendance rate, this writer is finally ready to put in some graft and deliver reviews of songs you’ve probably never heard of. In this issue I’ll be introducing five seminal hardcore punk songs that I believe are worthy of your time and attention.
Whilst it is viable to see hardcore punk as sometimes descending into excessively caustic and sonically abrasive noise to the extent that the music and lyrics get overshadowed by its aggressive bravado, to me hardcore is so much more than that, to quote Fugazi frontman and hardcore gatekeeper Ian MacKaye “ Punk is tribe” that thrives on both inclusivity and rejection. These songs might even tell you something about yourself.
Black Flag – ‘Spray Paint’
Why not start this list of with arguably the most influential and well-known hardcore band Black Flag. Fronted by the manic imposing Henry Rollins, Black Flag burst onto the hardcore scene with their now legendary 1981 album Damaged to the detriment of both critics and legions of volatile punk fans. Decades later it is now regarded as a hardcore cornerstone (Rolling Stone magazine consistently rate it on their top 500 albums of all time, not like that means anything). It is fitting then that ‘Spray Paint’ is an encapsulation of that wild and disgruntled attitude that defined hardcore, a 33-second bulldozer that mocks the “Disgust in their eyes” of anyone who is antithetical to your being. If ever someone asked what hardcore punk is just show them this song.
Bad Brains – ‘Attitude’
What better way to demonstrate the far reaches of hardcore grasp when one of the most influential hardcore bands originally started out as a group of jazz fusion Rastafarians who converted to hardcore punk, inspiring and aggravating people in equal measure. At its best hardcore is often a declaration of the self and the proliferation of individualism and Bad Brains excelled at this wearing their outsider image on their sleeves. The simple refrain “Don’t care what they may say we got that attitude” is so beautifully succinct yet contemplative and existential when screamed by lead singer HR and backed by maniacal thrashing of guitars and crashing symbols. 40 years on, the song has not lost a sliver of its potency.
Born Against – ‘Witness to a Rape’
Music is often lauded for its concise yet critical examination of pressing issues whether it be social, economic, cultural or otherwise. Born Against were one of the most vocal propagators of this philosophy. Hailing from the burgeoning New York hardcore scene, born against made no bones about who deserved to be dismantled and held accountable. Tragically this song seems eerily prescient and prophetic even to this day in the midst of tragedies such as Sarah Everard. Frontman Sam McPheeters’ high voltage yelps of lines such as “Fed the lie for all my life that woman has her place / And it’s only skin-deep like as many flanks of meat up for inspection” are equally as distressing and necessary to understand that even 25 years on, little has really changed.
Minor Threat – ‘Straight Edge’
It is a rare accolade for a band to have coined an entire movement and philosophy in a song totalling 45 seconds, but let this be a testament for Minor Threat‘s brilliance. Aside from being my favourite album, I have listened to and arguably the progenitors of an entire genre, the song itself is an encapsulation of everything good about hardcore punk. Technical yet crude thrashing guitars, a potent social statement, and a DIY independent attitude. In the song legendary frontman and founder of revered Dischord Records, Ian MacKaye contemptuously spits his choice of lifestyle against self-destruction and nullification “I’ve got better things to do than / Hang out with the living dead / I’ve gone straight edge!” and proposes an alternative to what he saw destroying and reducing his comrades. With this he became the undisputed spirit of punk music.
Ultra Violent – ‘Crime For Revenge’
Whilst it is accurate and infallible to claim that hardcore music has its humble origins across the pond in America (specifically the East and West Coast), there was still many pre-eminent hardcore music to come from Blighty. One of the most notorious and celebrated songs from Britain came from a band who were together for a total of about one year and had around three vinyl releases (which retail second hand for around £100 each). They were a Brummy band called Ultra Violent and in their short lifespan produced ‘Crime For Revenge’, a foot-stomping anthem powered by a knackered kick drum and a vocal that is almost lost in feedback and yelped screams. Hardcore was not just confided to niche circles across America, it was for those who vested in its potent appeal.
Read the last instalment of From The Vault here.